Jon Schmidt ’11Art Studio Major
Posted on November 21st, 2022 by

“Jon ‘The Potter’ is part ceramic artist, part entrepreneur, part Youtube star, and all Gustie.”

“What’s up guys? I’m Jon the Potter.”
It’s Jon Schmidt’s signature opening line, and it signals the start of a clay-throwing good time over on the Waconia, Minnesota native’s YouTube channel, where 115,000 subscribers regularly tune in to watch him craft mugs, bowls, and plates from his home pottery studio, which he then sells on Etsy and uses (and sells) at his other businesses, a chain of coffee shops in and near Waconia called Mocha Monkey, which he bought when he was still a student at Gustavus.

That’s a lot of seemingly incongruent activity. But when you see Schmidt in action—long, unruly hair; friendly, laid-back manner; next-day stubble; maybe a slouchy beanie—it all makes sense. He definitely looks like your super cool, coffeeshop-owning buddy who throws pottery on his YouTube channel.

That’s the thing about a liberal arts education: You come in thinking you’re just one thing—an athlete, an academic, an artist—and come out with a completely different understanding.

That’s what happened to Schmidt. Growing up, Schmidt had been all about athletics, “basketball in particular,” he says. “That was really my whole story about myself.” When he arrived at Gustavus, he assumed that story would continue uninterrupted.

It did not. Schmidt jumped into his Management major, taking classes and building lasting relationships with the guys in Co-Ed (Norelius). He stayed sporty with JV basketball for a year, then intramurals and club volleyball and ultimate frisbee. He got better at writing—something he’d never been great at in high school— and began to develop a more complete picture of himself.

Then he went to India. “It was a trip called Social Justice, Peace, and Development,” he says. It had nothing to do with his management major, but he felt compelled. And when he came back, “I had a whole new perspective—about living a life that you love, about not chasing the most money, about seeking adventure and carving your own path.” Engaging that sense of adventure, he signed up for a ceramics class. There, with encouragement from a professor who gave him free reign on studio time and materials, “I realized that I had something that I wanted to do for the rest of my life.”

By the time senior year rolled around, Schmidt had moved away from his sporty high-school persona, picked up some business skills, traveled to India and back, and developed a passion for pottery. Then it all came together.

“I walked into this coffee shop near my hometown, Mocha Monkey. [They were] using handmade pottery every day behind the counter: mugs, plates, bowls…” he says. There, in the basement, was ample room for a pottery studio. “Everything kind of collided for me: my passion around ceramics, a vibrant business in a community that I really love.

“So, I got a job there.” Schmidt was still taking classes at Gustavus when he became a Mocha Monkey barista. Then, in December 2010, six months before graduation, the owners wanted to sell.

Schmidt was 21. He had few financial resources. That didn’t stop him. “When I have a vision for something I really stop at nothing to go after it,” he says. Plus, “My Gustavus experiences gave me the confidence to jump in.” Still, there was his senior year to finish. “I went to some of my business professors and asked, ‘is there any way I don’t have to actually be at Gustavus, that I can be running this new business?’” he recalls. Absolutely, they said. What better way to practice hands-on business skills
then owning a real-world business? He secured a loan, worked out independent studies based on his business launch, and dug in.

The support was immense. Schmidt’s new venture became a learning lab for himself and his fellow students too. “Gusties helped me make logos and branding for Mocha Monkey. My business showed up as case-study projects in all sorts of classes. Gustavus as a community was able to actually help me start this business and get it off the ground.”

Mocha Monkey now has three locations in and around Waconia, including an innovative location inside a local bank (complete with a drive-thru). Schmidt just earned his silver YouTube button for six figures worth of subscribers. His Etsy inventory regularly sells out. This guy who learned how to write while at Gustavus just landed a book deal. This is nothing like the life a sporty, first-year Gustie Jon Schmidt envisioned for himself—there’s narry a basketball hoop to be found. “Gustavus allowed me to discover
things within myself that I never would have found otherwise,” he says. The outcome almost 10 years later is the best of all his worlds: “a life that I’m ridiculously passionate about.”


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